The day was unseasonably warm, so most of the guests at Katie’s first birthday party had made their way outside. A cousin and I sat on the steps watching the little ones swarm the swing set. We intervened in a couple of near misses, but for the most part we sat, watched and chatted about the kids.
Her daughter called to her from the swings, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Can you push me pleeeeeease?”
“I’m comin’,” she called back with a sigh.
“I can’t wait until Katie starts calling me like that,” I said. “It must be amazing to hear your baby call you Mommy.”
As her daughter yelled again, “Mommmmmmy!!!” my cousin chuckled. “Careful what you wish for, kid.”
I never should have remembered that conversation. It was one of a million others just like it.
Within short order, Katie would indeed be calling me (and calling me and calling me and calling me.)
So why? Why did that one moment – among so many others – become an indelible memory?
At nearly four, Brooke still did not use my name. She didn’t use anyone’s name. She threw various shards of language into the ether hoping the right person would pick up on them and somehow divine what she wanted or needed. It was the best she could do with the tools that she had.
Besides, she had other ways to convey with whom she was trying to interact. Nothing if not resourceful, she’d pull me up from the table by a single finger. She’d hold it out in front of us as we walked across the floor until I’d find myself pointing at the refrigerator. Her little hands would guide my finger to the handle and she’d wait. I’d open the door and she’d say ‘This.’ I’d point at everything in the fridge until – behold! – we’d found it. Not exactly, “Mama, may have an apple, please?” but hell, it worked.
Over time, she began to use our names. It was not a natural process. Like everything else surrounding her use of language it had to be slowly, methodically introduced – then shaped, prompted and practiced.
At seven, she now plays with my name.
“Hi, Meeeeeema,” she says, waiting for me to laugh and say, “Hi, Breeeeeke.”
“I love you, Moh-ma,” she says (with a long ‘O’), knowing that I’ll say, “I love you too, Broh-ke.”
I’m Mama in the day-to-day.
I’m ‘Mom’ when she needs help.
I’m ‘Mommy’ when she’s scared.
Last night, we snuggled together for a little TV time before bed. Her arm stretched across my chest and her little fingers tickled my neck. Blue’s Clues played in the background. I wouldn’t have moved on a bet.
“Mama?” she said quietly.
“I love you.”
As I have so many times over the years, I thought of my conversation with my cousin. And then I thought of all of my friends whose children don’t yet speak, but who will never give up on hearing their sweet voices say their names.
I squeezed my girl as I said, “I love you too, baby. I love you too.”
I wonder if, soon after the Inauguration, the new President gets a little kick out of being called ‘Mr President.’ I imagine that for a while he revels in the novelty of it. Like every time anyone addresses him he takes a moment for a little inner chuckle – ‘Dude, that’s ME! I’m the President!’ I wonder if he calls people into his office just to hear them say it. OK, probably not. There’s all that business of running the country and everything.
But I have to imagine that’s pretty close to it – to how I feel EVERY time my youngest child uses my name. ‘That’s ME!’ I think. ‘I’M HER MOM.’ I can think of no greater title to hold and no greater gift than hearing it from her lips.
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.
In honor of all of the mothers who long to hear their babies call their names – whether their ‘babies’ are two or four or ten or twenty – please, consider a donation to any of the amazing charities who support our community and who work alongside us to bring our children’s voices forth from the silence.
Because every mother deserves that gift.